The rain and thunder and lightning had stopped, and a bit of afternoon sun shone on the raindrops clinging to the clothesline. I finished hanging out the clothes and sheets and went back to my room (I didn’t fall out, though I was still a little dizzy and my stomach woozy). I put on the bed a clean sheet from the laundry I’d done a few days before.
When I was finally done, I climbed back into the bed I shared with my brother. I held on to Michael’s flannel shirt and dug my face into it. I rocked back and forth, back and forth, the way I always did when I was in bed alone. It felt good when I rocked. The steady rhythm got me through whatever was going on. In the rhythm, no one could hurt me. I was about to drift off to Hamilton Beach when I heard the high-pitched squeal of the front gate outside the apartment house. The Archangel was again too late to rescue me, but it was better than him finding out about my treatments.
I climbed out of bed and crept slowly past Teresa and into the kitchen. My stomach was still woozy, and the living room moved around me in waves. Michael came through the kitchen door, with Sal right behind him.
“Hey, Shorty,” he said. “How you doin’?”
“Fine,” I said. That was what I always said.
“Come on, Meathead,” Michael told his best friend. “Let’s grab something to eat before I have to go to work.”
“Okay, I’m starving,” said Sal.
“Want a sandwich?” Michael asked me.
“Um, okay,” I said, as I always did, never wanting him to wonder why I wasn’t eating. Even though my stomach was usually a mess, I knew he worried about my eating enough, and the less explaining I had to do, the better. In fact, the only time I really ate was when Michael made me something. He was getting the peanut butter down from the cabinet when I heard Frances pounding up the hallway steps outside the kitchen door.
“Sounds like You-Know-Who,” Michael said. “She’s probably got her snobby little friend Linda with her—you know, my boss’s daughter.”
“You mean the rich one?” asked Sal.
“Yeah, conceited, too,” said Michael.
“Though, I have to admit, she’s the best lookin’ of all Frances’s stupid friends,” said Michael. “In fact, she’s probably the best-lookin’ girl in the whole school. Ya know what I mean?” He laughed.
“Yeah,” said Sal, smiling. “Nice body, nice long blonde hair.”
Frances and Linda came through the door.
“Oh, making sandwiches?” said Frances. “We’ll have one, too. Want a sandwich, Linda?”
“What kind?” asked Linda.
“Looks like peanut butter and jelly,” said Frances.
“No, thanks,” said Linda. “I hate peanut butter.”
“What is this, a restaurant?” asked Michael. “Make your own freaking sandwiches.”
“Oh, thanks a lot,” said Frances. “You’re so rude.”
“And you’re so fat,” said Michael.
“Shut up, Michael, and drop dead,” said Frances. “Danny, what are you doing? Holding up the wall?”
“No,” I mumbled. “I’m just standing here.”
“And how come you can make him a sandwich, but you can’t make me and Linda one?” Frances asked Michael.
“’Cause he’s just a little kid,” said Michael.
“You make me sick,” said Frances. “You act like he’s so helpless.”
“Bug off, will ya?” Michael said. “You’re already busting the seams in that uniform, anyway. You don’t need a sandwich.”
Sal shook his head, smiling.
“Drop dead!” yelled Frances.
Teresa shuffled into the kitchen, empty glass in hand, a lit cigarette between her fingers. I slid onto the edge of a chair at the table.
“What are you two yelling about, now?” she said. “You’re giving me a headache.” She dragged herself to the cabinet over the sink and pulled down another bottle of scotch, though it was only half full. She poured it into the glass she was holding.
Michael mumbled to himself, “Maybe if you didn’t drink so much you wouldn’t get so many freaking headaches.”
“You shut up and watch your language,” she yelled at him. “I don’t need to hear that out of you. You got no respect for your own mother.” She moved back into the living room, glass in one hand, bottle in the other.
Michael shot a glance at Sal who shot one back at him. “Here,” said Michael. He handed Sal a sandwich. “See if that milk’s in the fridge.”
“Okay,” said Sal.
“Here, Danny,” said Michael. “Sit down and eat this.”
“Not too much in there,” Sal said, and shook the milk carton and gave it to Michael.
“Here, drink this,” Michael said. He poured what was left in the carton into a plastic cup and plunked it down on the table in front of me.
“How come he gets the milk?” asked Frances, her hands on her hips under her navy blue school uniform.
“’Cause he’s the baby. That’s why. Sit down, Sal. Hey, Shorty, move over,” Michael said and sat down next to me.
“You’re right, Frances, it doesn’t seem fair to me, either,” Linda said.
“Nothing’s fair around here, don’t you know that, Linda?” said Frances in a sing-song voice. “Little Daniel here gets everything, we slaves get nothing.”
Michael was about to answer her when Sal piped up, “Hey, when we’re done eating, Mike, you wanna play some stickball?”
“Nah, I told you, Meathead. I gotta work. Not everybody around here gets to sit around and do nothing but eat.” Michael continued chewing his sandwich and stared at Frances who opened her mouth and showed Michael the chewed up bread and peanut butter inside.
“You’re disgusting,” said Michael.
Sal, the peacemaker, glanced over at her and tried not to laugh. “So, how’s it going workin’ at Grenelli’s Collision?” asked Sal.
“That’s my father’s shop,” Linda added with her nose in the air, its usual position. She sat down at the table.
“Yeah, right, and I gotta be there in half an hour,” Michael said.
“He can’t be late or my father will fire him,” Linda said.
Michael scrunched up his face at her. She turned away from him and looked at Frances.
“Hey, it’s boss-A you got a job working there, anyway,” Sal said. “Geez. You’re only twelve.”
“I know but I need money, and the only way I’m gonna get any is to work for it,” said Michael. “I’m gonna buy me a car.”
“Yeah, I know, Mike!” said Sal.” “Wow! A car! When you gonna get one?”
“Not yet, you meathead, but I will. You wait and see. I’m gettin’ me a ’57 Chevy. Black. Beautiful.” Michael smiled as he always did when he talked about his car. He took a big bite of his sandwich. “Yeah, I’m glad Grenelli’s giving me a chance,” he went on. “I think he likes me.”
Frances and Linda looked at each other, then both rolled their eyes, pursed their lips, and shook their heads.
“Grenelli said he’d help me when the time comes,” Michael said. “Yeah, that’s why I gotta keep this job. I wanna learn all I can, so when I get my car I’ll be able to put it together myself.” He took another bite of his sandwich. “And some day, I’m gonna have my own repair shop. You wait and see,” he said.
The phone rang. Michael and Frances both scrambled to grab the yellow receiver from the wall. Michael picked it up.
“Drop dead,” Frances said, pushing him and running back to the refrigerator before Michael could push her back.
“How about cream cheese?” she said to Linda. Linda lowered her mouth, turned her head, and blew air through her pursed lips. She did that a lot. I guessed she didn’t like cream cheese. But, from what I could tell, there wasn’t much Linda did like.
“Hold on,” said Michael to the phone. “Ma, it’s for you,” he called into the living room. “The doctor.”
I shut my eyes tight and lay my half-eaten sandwich down on the table. I heard the shuffle of Teresa’s slippers as she moved past me into the kitchen. I heard her pick up the phone.
“Yeah?” she said.
“Danny, what are you doing?” said Michael. “Eat your sandwich.”
I opened my eyes, blinked a lot because they were stuck closed, and picked up the partly-eaten sandwich and held it up to my mouth.
“Tomorrow, one o’clock,” she said into the phone. “Okay.” She hung it up and pointed her finger at me.
“The doctor. Tomorrow. One o’clock,” she said. “You hear me?”
I nodded. Tears forced their way up to my eyes. I couldn’t let them spill over, not with Frances and Linda there.
“How come he has to see the doctor so much?” asked Michael. “What’s wrong with him?”
“I told you, he’s got a condition,” said Teresa. “Born with it. He knows what it is. Don’t you?” She shot me a look, eyes squinting. I nodded again, still fighting the tears. I put my sandwich down. My throat had closed.
“But he’s okay, right?” Michael asked.
“He’s anything but okay,” stuck in Frances, laughing. She jabbed Linda‘s arm, though Linda wasn’t laughing and shot Frances a look.
“He’ll be just fine,” Teresa said. “As long as he keeps seeing the doctor.”
“Oh,” Michael said. “Well, I gotta go.” He stood up and checked his pocket for his Camels.
No please, don’t go, I wanted to plead, but didn’t. “Where are you going, Michael?” I asked.
“I just told you. I gotta go to Grenelli’s.” He looked over at Linda. “I mean Mr. Grenelli’s.” His face broke into a big smile. “I gotta go to work. Remember?”
“You should be glad he lets you work for him,” Linda told Michael who pretended not to hear.
“Yeah,” Frances butted in.
“Shut up and mind your own business,” Michael told Frances.
“Michael, can I go with you?” I said, trying not to sound desperate. I knew he’d say no, but inside I was crying.
“Danny, you know you can’t go to work with me,” he said. “It’s too dangerous.”
“I’ll stay out of the way. I promise.”
“Sorry, Shorty, Mr. Grenelli wouldn’t like it,” Michael said and shot Linda a quick smile. “I’ll see you later when I’m finished. Okay, Shorty? Come on, Sal.”
I watched them leave, with Frances and Linda trailing behind them, against Michael’s protests, and heard them all pounding down the staircase. I slid from the kitchen and through the living room. I could see that Teresa was sprawled on the couch with her glass and bottle of scotch nearby.
Not wanting to disturb her, hoping she’d fall asleep if she wasn’t already, I dared not look close enough to know for sure. Creepy organ music from another of her usual afternoon soap operas, As the World Turns, played loudly in the background, with the guy’s weird voice saying, “Join us again tomorrow for another half-hour of drama on As the World Turns.” I crawled into bed under the covers and rocked myself to sleep as I always did.
END OF EXCERPT 8